One of the great things about being a travelling birder is that birds are everywhere. So on my cruise-trip to Scandinavia and the Baltic states a couple of years ago, I managed to fit a little birding into my sightseeing schedule, with some interesting results.
This wasn’t a full-on birding trip, so I left my big 100-400-millimetre telephoto lens at home, in favour of a more compact lens borrowed from a friend (thanks, Steve). And since the birds in European cities aren’t quite as shy as those in the Canadian countryside, it was just about right for some urban bird photography.
In truth, the birds of Scandinavia weren’t quite the colourful flock I’m used to shooting in places like Canada’s Point Pelee: a lot of them seemed to be fashionably dressed in black and white. But they had their own distinctive style, and as a birder, I’m fascinated by the endless variety of bird life I find in every corner of the world.
My trip started in Copenhagen, and the first thing I noticed was crows. Not the plain, black ones we’re used to in North America, but hooded crows — big, bold fellows with a grey body and contrasting black head. They were large and in charge in every neighbourhood, even right downtown, where I caught this one walking along the banks of one of Copenhagen’s many canals.
The green lawns and thickets of Rosenborg Castle yielded a few more birds, including another common Scandinavian species, the European wood pigeon. You see pigeons all over the world, but I find these ones among the nicest-looking.
Frederiksborg Castle, outside the city, was an even richer source of bird life, with its woods, gardens and waterways. I skipped lunch to roam the grounds, and came back with shots of several species, including this black-headed gull and a great crested grebe.
Cemeteries are always a good place to find birds, and since I was staying near the Assistens Cemetery — final resting place of Hans Christian Andersen — I spend a couple of hours strolling the grounds. That gave me a chance to photograph one of the city’s most handsome birds, the Eurasian magpie. There were also lots of Eurasian blackbirds… is there a place on earth that doesn’t have its own blackbird?
Before leaving town, I strolled down to visit the famous Little Mermaid statue, and made the short detour to see Kastellet, a historic fortress guarding the harbour. The entrance was over a small bridge spanning the moat, and right beside it, only a few feet from the constant stream of tourists, a pair of coots had decided to raise their young family. Amazingly, most of the passers-by didn’t even notice them — but of course, they weren’t birders.
Next stop was Warnemunde, Germany, and strolling the town I happened upon a lovely, green park, which turned out to be a haven for local birds. Hearing a melodious song, I looked up to see this green finch singing on its territory.
Nearby, a Eurasian nuthatch crept up a large tree, and a bit farther on, I caught a glimpse of a great tit (that’s what they’re called, don’t blame me).
A trip to nearby Rostock turned up another black-and-grey bird, which to me looked like a bi-coloured starling. However, the bird books confirmed it was a jackdaw, one of Europe’s most common birds.
On to Tallinn, Estonia, where I was almost successful in photographing a white wagtail. These peppy little ground-scuttlers were everywhere, but they were shy enough to always stay just far enough from me the prevent a really good shot.
St. Petersburg was a shut-out, but in Helsinki, I hopped the ferry for a trip to the island fortress called Suomenlinna. And on the way over, we were swarmed by a flock of common gulls looking for handouts. They were pretty successful, which is probably why they were such healthy, beautiful specimens.
The big prize on Suomenlinna, however, was a flock of barnacle geese I found swimming along the coastline (that’s the photo at top — if you’re reading this by e-mail, click the headline to see it). This was the first time I’d seen these geese, and as a bonus, there were a few chicks in the flock. But the adults were truly handsome birds too — here’s a close-up look at one.
Last stop was Stockholm, where I found this big, beautiful Baltic gull on the waterfront where I stopped for a view of the city hall.
These are obviously a common sight in the Swedish capital, and as we sailed out we got a great look at them. A large flock dive-bombed the ship, and while the passengers were warned not to feed them, they did anyway, so we got a good view of them in full flight.
So that’s my birding diary of two weeks in Scandinavia and the Baltic states. I missed not being able to tramp the fields and woodlands to see all the birds of Scandinavia — but all in all, I was happy to come home with a good haul of photos just from haunting the parks and lawns of the cities I visited.
It only goes to show that you can bird almost anywhere, even in the middle of the city, and find new and fascinating species almost anywhere you go. It’s a perfect world for a travelling birder.